Just when I thought I knew Strindberg, the great modernist author of Miss Julie and The Father, Philadelphia Artists’ Collective gives us a revelatory production of his rarely performed Creditors; Charlotte Northeast’s directorial debut is nothing short of dazzling. Of course, she does have a remarkable trio of fine actors to work with.
This riveting old-fashioned drama is built on Strindberg’s profound belief that the battle of the sexes is a war to the death. It begins with two men talking: Adolph (Dan Hodge) is ill and desperate: a painter who has lost faith in painting, he has been emasculated by his novelist wife, Tekla (Krista Apple), and his marriage is foundering, mired in suspicion and jealousy and distorted by power struggles. Gustav (Damon Bonetti), a mysterious smooth talker, manipulates the conversation, advising Adolph to assert himself and “husband your masculinity.”
The performances are breathtakingly nuanced, sculpted with subtlety and passion -- Hodge and Apple and Bonetti are absolutely embedded in their roles. And the venue is perfect; the upstairs reading room of the Franklin Inn Club suggests the past, a world of books and grandfather clocks and ascots and long skirts, where dangerous obsessions roil under a civilized surface.
Strindberg based this play on his own life – his disastrous marriage to Siri von Essen, a famous actress who was formerly married to a baron, and whom he accused publicly of trying to poison him, of being a lesbian, of bearing illegitimate children and trying to have him committed -- a spectacular combo of paranoia, passionate love and self-ridicule.
This biographical juiciness has another layer: Apple and Hodge are a couple, as are Bonetti and Northeast. What fun they must be having with this vicious, brilliant play, which may well be the star of this year’s Fringe.
-- Toby Zinman
Philadelphia Artists’ Collective at the Franklin Inn Club, 205 S. Camac St. Through 9/23. $25.